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Onondaga County Sheriff says youth break-ins on the rise

Law enforcement officials from across Onondaga County discuss the rise in teen criminal activity, Aug. 29.
Ellen Abbott
Law enforcement officials from across Onondaga County discuss the rise in teen criminal activity, Aug. 29.

Police said Tuesday that gangs of youths are behind much of a spike in car thefts and burglaries across central New York this summer.

The Onondaga County Sheriff's office said 216 vehicles were the target of thieves across the county over a three-week period this month. Since mid-June, 40 smoke shops have been burglarized outside the city of Syracuse. A gun shop in Elbridge has been repeatedly burglarized. The culprits for much of the crime, according to Onondaga County Sheriff Investigator Jesse Welch, are five or six groups of teens between the ages of 11 and 17.

"We're able to determine that groups get together and it becomes a competition for them," Welch said. "They're comparing vehicles that they have stolen. They're trying to one-up each other. Guns seem to be the ultimate goal and prize amongst these groups."

Some of the guns and stolen vehicles have been recovered, and some suspects are in custody, but Welch said that has not stopped some of these groups from reforming and going back on the street.

"We do see recidivism, at a high rate," Welch said. "There's very little that we can do in the 11-year-old after we bring them into custody for one of these events, to prevent them from doing it again the next morning."

Cicero Police Chief Steve Rotunno has been investigating thefts in his town, including an alleged gang of teens smashing three vehicles through the front of a car dealership. He advises residents to keep vehicles locked up, but notes that it is sometimes not enough to stop thefts, with perpetrators smashing windows to steal cars. Kias and Hyundais continue to be a prime target, easy to steal with a USB cable. Rotunno is asking the public for help

"If you see something say something, we still hear today, we didn't want to bother the police," Rotunno said. "So jump on the phone. It was 2 in the morning, 3:45 in the morning, 10 in the morning, hit 911."

Onondaga County Sheriff Toby Shelley said this problem goes beyond just the city, that needs to be addressed.

"It's not a city problem, it's not a town of Cicero problem, it's a county-wide, it's in Oswego County, it's a regional issue and that's why I'm asking people to be more vigilant," Shelly said. "I mean you can only lock your car so much, you can only secure your house so much, and these people are still breaking in and doing stuff. You know, we need to be vigilant, take care of each other, see something call us.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.